Thursday, July 26, 2018

And then there were two...

He was the little guy responsible for dandelion control. The bright yellow flowers were his favourite snack food and I didn't mind one bit!

Piper and our rabbit, Honey, were my constant companions in the garden (the two older dogs always preferring the cool comfort of the air conditioned kitchen). I have never felt right about keeping the rabbit caged, so when I could, I allowed him the freedom to hop around and explore the backyard.

Last May

You might suppose that at this small hint of freedom, the rabbit might make good his escape into the wild. Quite the contrary is true! He preferred the safety of familiar ground and always had a few favourite spots. The yard is fully fenced, so it was never likely that he'd stray far at any rate. 

My only worry was hawks. That's is where Piper's animosity for large birds came in handy. 

This hostility started with seagulls that frequent the Walmart parking lot. Piper loves the car (weather permitting). He’s one of those dogs that likes to ride in the back with his head out the open window. The slightest jingle of car keys and Piper’s at the front door manoeuvring to ensure he gets to come along.

On the occasion that I am off doing errands or in the store, Piper takes the self-appointed task of protecting the car very seriously. It was on one of these shopping trips that Piper got introduced to seagulls.

Gulls are brash and brazenly opportunistic. They often hang around in the parking lot of our neighbourhood Walmart looking to take advantage of the smallest scrap of edible garbage. When a few of them flew near our parked car, Piper decided the gulls were the enemy. I came out from the store to find him jumping around the car barking at the seagulls through the half-open windows (I should mention this happened in the fall. I don't leave him in a hot car in the summer).

Piper on patrol.

It occurred to me that his dislike of seagulls might have an application in the garden.

I began to encourage him to bark whenever something large flew overhead. Before I knew it, he was barking at any large bird who flew over the garden (mostly harmless black vultures, but expecting him to appreciate the subtle distinctions between a hawk and a vulture seemed to be overly optimistic).

I began to feel comfortable with the rabbit being in the garden as long as his buddy Piper was on patrol.

I have never known a dog who is as fascinated with other creatures as Piper is.  I'll be digging around in the flowerbed when I notice Piper poking his nose at ants that make the mistake of crossing his path. Or I'll look over and see him watching bumblebees with rapt attention. 

When my husband discovered a Swallowtail newly emerged from its chrysalis earlier this spring, he gave the butterfly a free ride over to the flowers in my garden. Of course, Piper was fascinated with the tentative flutter of butterfly's new wings.

Piper loved the rabbit. He was forever licking his face and ears. I am not so sure the feeling was entirely mutual, but the rabbit put up with all the attention.

In early June, I began to notice a problem with the rabbit's ears. A bit of online research suggested it might be mites, but I couldn't find any indication of mites when I examined him. His balance seemed a bit off, and then sadly, Honey took a sudden turn for the worse. He had a little seizure and passed away in my husband's arms.

I was devastated–especially by the unexpected nature of his loss. To make me feel better my husband took away the empty cage and hid it in the basement. Still, I found myself looking over to the spot by my desk where the cage had been. My morning routine of cleaning out his cage was gone and I missed the way his eyes lit up when I fed him a sliver of apple for breakfast. And of course, I felt his absence in the garden...

Unfortunately, Honey has not been our only loss this summer. On Monday, we had to make that horrible decision that I knew was coming. 

Buddy was well on his way to twenty years old. He was a handsome boy and the best of dogs.

This is one of the ways I want to remember him.

In the last six months, Buddy had really slowed down. Stairs were impossible with his limited vision, so my husband carried him to bed each night and down to breakfast each morning. 

The two younger dogs would devour their dry toast and be standing at the door ready to go out for their morning exercise. More often than I'd like, Buddy would eat his breakfast and head for his bed. Still, there were lots of times he'd rally and his quality of life was still good.

On Saturday, Buddy seemed to have a bad stomach bug–not untypical for an older dog. By Sunday we knew it was something more serious. We were up quite literally all night mopping up mess after mess. I took him down to the bathroom at 4 am to give him a complete bath. He lay exhausted and spent as I dried and brushed his fur. There didn't seem to be any fight left in him.

On Monday we made the terrible decision that no pet lover ever wants to make and booked an appointment with the vet. Buddy lay still while the vet confirmed the merit of our decision. A few minutes later I stroked Buddy's head, tears rolling down my face as my husband and I said our goodbyes. Buddy stirred and then drifted quietly away.

There are now just two dogs in a garden, but in my heart, there will always be three.

P.S. Though the bunny is gone, Piper still charges up and down the yard alerting me to the presence of any large birds. Perhaps it is just as well because yesterday I noticed there is a wild baby bunny in the garden. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

A Visit to Artemesia Daylilies

Last weekend we went on a little road trip that took us north of Toronto to Thornbury and Collingwood. In the winter, the Blue Mountains make this area perfect for skiing. In the summer, views of Georgian Bay and quaint restaurants and shops make it a popular tourist destination. While my husband was interested in poking around antique shops, I was wanted to do a little plant shopping. My mission– the perfect pink daylily.

Why drive miles and miles in search of daylilies? In large part, it was just an excuse to escape the heat of Toronto and take a little drive in the country, but honestly, there is nothing like seeing a flower in front of you before you make your choice.

You get a much better idea of a flower's true size and color than you ever could from a photograph. I have bought a number of pink daylilies from pictures, only to be disappointed with the shade of pink when it eventually blooms (I like cool pinks rather than peachy-pinks).

'Wild and Wonderful', which the catalogue describes as "one of the most popular in the garden". Evergreen foliage. Vigorous grower and prolific bloomer.

'Red Suspenders' Dormant and slightly fragrant.

In pictures, I never liked these spidery-type daylilies, but in the field, I was surprised how much I admired them. They're often quite big and showy.

'Spacecoast Citrus Kick' Very vigorous and fast grower. Semi-evergreen foliage.

'White Base'. Very fragrant and evergreen foliage.

Some daylilies have ruffled petals and many have interesting markings. Often there is a contrasting throat color and/or flashes of color on the petals.

 'Only Believe' has 7-inch fragrant flowers. Semi-evergreen foliage.

Most nurseries carry a limited selection of daylilies, so if you're looking for something unique, you may have to hunt down a nursery that specializes in growing them. Artemesia Daylilies, just south of Georgian Bay on the outskirts of a tiny town called Kimberly, is a pleasant drive from Toronto.

The barn set into the hillside.

The renovated farmhouse is home to the nursery's owners. 

 Alain watering the garden. This summer has been a hot, dry one here in Ontario.

For partners Alain Johnson and Jocelyn Bertrand, growing daylilies was a hobby that grew into a business. They have an online catalogue and also welcome customers to shop in the fields that surround their renovated house and barn.

A closeup of the Trumpet vine on the arbour.

 Daylilies are not the only type of lilies in the garden.

'Lies and Lipstick' Semi-evergreen.

As their name suggests, daylilies open for a single day, but one scape can carry as many as thirty or so buds that will each open for a day. The higher the bud count per scape, the longer the period of bloom.

Of course, the bloom of a daylily is key to your decision making, but in reality, you're buying the complete package. When the daylily is right in front of you, the size and shape of the plant might alter your impression. For instance, one of the daylilies I admired in the field had broad green foliage and big flowers on short stems, while another had finer leaves and small, trumpet-like flowers on tall, reed-like scapes.

'Lucky Dragon', which is a great name. I'd love to have a lucky dragon in my own garden!

Growing Daylilies–The Basics:

Daylilies couldn't be easier to grow! They need full sun (except in the southern parts of the States where a break from the hot afternoon sun would be appreciated).

Daylilies are happy in average garden soil but will grow more vigorously when the soil is amended with compost, leaf mould or well-aged manure.

Soil moisture is key to having spectacular blooms and will even encourage re-blooming.

Ideally, plant them in the spring or the fall. The spring will give the plant time to recover and bloom. In the fall, you can add spring bulbs into your planting hole.

Divide them in the spring. Water them well to encourage new growth.


There are three categories of daylily foliage:

Evergreen – are the least cold tolerant. Hardy evergreens behave like Dormant daylilies in Canada (where there is insufficient snow cover, it's a good idea to mulch them).

Semi-evergreen – Retain their foliage in warmer climates. Where winter freeze occurs, the foliage dies back.

Dormant – Regardless of the horticultural zone the plant is grown in, the foliage dies back to the ground in winter. Cultivars with dormant foliage tend to be the most cold-hardy.

After flowering daylily foliage can look messy and unattractive. If you cut the plant back by half, new foliage will start to appear.

Plant type: Perennial

Flower: Flowers last a single day. They come in a wide range of colors including orange, cream, red, yellow, peach, pink, and maroon.

Bloom period: 
Early – June into July
Midseason – July
Late – July into August


Light: Full sun

Divide: Early spring or fall

Problems: fairly pest and disease resistant. Deer may be an issue.

USDA Zones: 3-10

'Leebea Orange Crush' and 'Art Imperial'

'Good Old Boy' Semi-evergreen.


So what did I end up buying? My original mission to find the perfect pink flower went out the window when I saw this dark beauty! Alain Johnson couldn't have been nicer and gave me a really big plant to take home (without any idea of who I was).

For those of you who might like to do a little daylily shopping of your own, do a quick Google search to find a specialist nursery in your area. Update: An American reader has let me know that the American Hemerocallis Society website has a list of display gardens in the U.S. & Canada as well as a list of daylily sources by region.

For readers in Ontario, you can visit these daylily nurseries (they also ship within Canada):

Artemesia Daylilies is located at 235731 Grey Rd. 13, just 4kms north of Kimberley. They have hostas as well as an extensive array of daylilies. Visit their website for open times, directions, and to see the online catalogue.

Dynamic Daylilies is located at 4500 South Service Rd., Beamsville, Ontario. Visit their website for open times, directions and to see the online catalogue.

Gardens Plus is a nursery and display garden featuring daylilies and hostas, but they also sell Coneflowers, Hellebores, Coral Bells, and other perennials. 136 Country Rd 4, Donwood, Ontario (just east of Peterborough). Check their website for details, hours, and to see the online catalogue. Here's a link to an older post I did on Gardens Plus.

Nottawasaga Dayliles is located in Creemore, Ontario. Visit their website for details and online catalogue.

We're in the Hayfield Now are holding their annual daylily festival on July 20, 21 & 22nd. I haven't been to their festival for a few years, but really enjoyed it when we went. They have been breeding daylilies for over 25 years and are located on 4704 Pollard Rd., Orono (east of Toronto). Check their website for details, hours, and catalogue. Here's a link to a post I did on the Hayfield (it has since changed ownership, but I'm sure it's just as great as ever).

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The New Dwarf Hydrangeas

One of my favourites Hydrangea paniculata 'Little Lime' in with some other flowers 
in a late summer bouquet.

Just when I finally think I have everything planted, I see that hydrangeas are 50% off at a local nursery (Terra Nursery for anyone that happens to be local). What hydrangea lover resist such a deal? So, of course, I came home with two of the newer dwarf cultivars and am contemplating a run back to the nursery to buy a third one.

I absolutely adore Hydrangea paniculata and Hydrangea arborescens. They flower reliably from mid-July and look terrific right into the fall. Both types of hydrangea bloom on new wood, so there is no worry of flower buds dying over the winter (as they always seem to do for me on any type of Hydrangea macrophylla or Mophead hydrangeas). You can prune them as needed in early spring to remove last seasons flowers, any crossed or damaged branches and to adjust their shape/keep them compact.

In case you're interested in a little bargain hunting yourself, here are some of the newer varieties of Hydrangea paniculata and Hydrangea arborescens to watch for:

The Dwarfs (starting with the smallest):

Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Wee White'Photo courtesy of Proven Winners 

Smooth Hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Wee White' is the same type of hydrangea as the classic and much-loved 'Annabelle', but in a very petite form. The flowers are cream-coloured and the stems are nice and sturdy.

Part sun to sun (minimum of 6 hrs. of sun)
Moisture: average (Mulch recommended to help conserve water)
Blooms on new wood (Prune in early spring. Cut the entire plant by one-third its total height)
Height: 12 - 30 Inches
Spread: 12 - 30 Inches
USDA zones: 3-9 

Hydrangea paniculata 'Bobo'

Last summer I added a Hydrangea paniculata 'Bobo' on either side of the back door. So far, I am super pleased with them.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Bobo' forms a low rounded mound of green foliage and has white flowers that turn pink in the fall.

Part sun to sun (minimum of 6 hrs. of sun)
Moisture: moderate moisture required
Blooms on new wood 
Height: 30-36 Inches
Spread: 36 - 48 Inches
USDA zones: 3-8 

Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Mini Mauvette'. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners 

Smooth Hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Mini Mauvette' has deep, pinky-mauve flowers and sturdy stems that keep the large flowers from flopping. 

Minimum of 6 hrs. of sun
Moisture: average (Mulch recommended to help conserve water)
Blooms on new wood (Prune in early spring. Cut the entire plant by one-third its total height)
Height: 30-36 Inches
Spread: 36 - 48 Inches
USDA zones: 3-9 

Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Limetta'. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners 

Smooth Hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Limetta' has a dwarf, rounded habit and lime-green flowers. The blooms lighten to a soft greenish-white before becoming jade-green for the rest of the season. 

Minimum of 6 hrs. of sun
Moisture: average 
Blooms on new wood 
Height: 36 - 48 Inches
Spread: 36 - 48 Inches
USDA zones: 3-9 

Hydrangea paniculata 'Little Quick Fire'. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners 

I had the full-sized Hydrangea paniculata 'Quick Fire' in the back garden and was so happy with its performance (in particular its drought tolerance), that I bought the dwarf version when it came out a couple of years ago. Like its big brother, 'Little Quick Fire' has done very well.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Little Quick Fire' flowers earlier than most other hydrangea paniculata. The blooms are white and then turn a fiery shade of pink as the fall approaches.

Part sun to sun 
Moisture: average (good drought tolerance once established)
Blooms on  new wood 
Height: 36 - 60 Inches
Spread: 36 - 60 Inches
USDA zones: 3-8 
Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Ruby'. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners 

This is one of the hydrangeas I bought on sale. The flowers are a deep reddish-magenta and I thought that it would look nice adjacent to a wine-colored Ninebark and a pink 'Invicibelle Spirit'. The tag says full sun, so I am a little worried that it might not get enough sun where I planted it, but we'll see. I can always move it next year if it is unhappy. 

Smooth Hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens 'Invincibelle Ruby' opens to a two-toned combination of bright ruby red and silvery pink. The foliage is quite dark and flower stems are nice and strong. 'Invincibelle Ruby' is adaptable to most well-drained soils.

Full Sun 
Moisture: average
Blooms on new wood 
Height: 36 - 48 Inches
Spread: 24 - 36 Inches
USDA zones: 3-9 

Hydrangea paniculata 'Little lamb'. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners 

Hydrangea paniculata 'Little lamb' blooms mid-summer with cream-colored flowers that become pink as fall approaches. It is adaptable to a variety of soils but will be happiest in a loamy soil. 

Part sun to sun 
Moisture: average (with some drought tolerance once established)
Blooms on new wood 
Height: 48 - 72 Inches
Spread: 48 - 72 Inches
USDA zones: 3-8 

Hydrangea paniculata' Zinfin Doll'. Photo courtesy of Proven Winners

Hydrangea paniculata' Zinfin Doll' is a bit like the full-sized Hydrangea paniculata 'Pinky Winky'. The flowers are pure white and then turn bright pink from the bottom up. As the weather cools, the flowers age further into a dark pinkish-red.

Part sun to sun (minimum of 6 hrs. of sun)
Heat Tolerant
Blooms on new wood 
Height: 54 - 72 Inches
Spread: 54 - 72  Inches
USDA zones: 3-8 

How to Choose a Dwarf Variety?

Smooth Hydrangeas, Hydrangea arborescens have broad, dome-shaped flowers and greenish, somewhat flexible stems. They need a minimum of six hours of sun (the exception being hot climates where some afternoon shade is beneficial). Based on my own experience, they really resent dry conditions, so keep that in mind as well. A layer of shredded bark mulch will help these shallow-rooted hydrangeas to conserve moisture, but if you're in an area like mine where July and August are always dry, you may have to provide supplemental water.

Hydrangea paniculata have rounded or cone-shaped flowers and brown, woody stems. In colder zones like mine, they prefer full sun, but in warmer garden zones, they would appreciate a bit of afternoon shade. Like Hydrangea arborescens, they like moist, well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. If soil moisture is a worry, 'Little Lamb' and 'Little Quick Fire' are two somewhat drought-tolerant options. Hydrangea paniculata' Zinfin Doll' is heat tolerant for those gardeners south of me.

Both the blooms of Hydrangea paniculata and Hydrangea arborescens are unaffected by the soil's pH level.

Generally, Hydrangea paniculata requires a light annual pruning. Smooth hydrangeas (Hydrangea arborescens) require that you cut the entire plant by one-third its total height early in the spring.

Hydrangea paniculata 'Bombshell'

This is the second hydrangea I bought. Hydrangea paniculata 'Bombshell' has a similar flower shape to 'Bobo' from Proven Winners and also matures into a rose-pink. It's a prolific bloomer that flowers earlier and longer than most other panicle hydrangeas. 

Part sun 
Water regularly to keep soil evenly moist
Blooms on new wood 
Height: 24-36 Inches
Spread: 36- 48 Inches
USDA zones: 4-8 

'Bombshell' seemed to be the perfect replacement for a hydrangea I lost mysteriously last fall after ten years or so in the garden. 

How about you? Are you still doing the odd bit of planting?

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Many thanks to Proven Winners for some of the photos in this post.